HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law a bill Friday that prohibits actions — such as those taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — that would affect the bottom line for businesses.
As a result of the new law, both Lewis and Clark and Gallatin counties said they could no longer enforce mask mandates.
“This bill effectively removes nearly 100 years of basic, preventative public health measures used to contain and help prevent the spread of infectious disease,” said Drenda Niemann, health officer for Lewis and Clark Public Health in Helena.
While Gallatin County's mask mandate is in effect at least through May 27, health officer Matt Kelly said the health department can no longer enforce it.
“Passage of the bill has created widespread confusion and uncertainty about impacts and the intention of the legislature, in large part because the bill’s proponents didn’t engage public health or county attorneys about the bill or its effect on the public health," Kelly said.
Businesses are still allowed to enforce their own requirements.
Both Niemann and Kelly urged residents to continue wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces and to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We are not out of danger yet," Niemann said. "We still have cases happening every single day, and several of the COVID-19 variants are present in our community. We urge community members to practice personal responsibility. It will take all of us working together to get through this.”
The legislation was among numerous bills the Republican majority passed in response to public health orders, such as business capacity limits and reduced operating hours, issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.